Between the Lines: Combat to Poetry

Jun 12, 2015

Bruce Lack
Credit Bruce Lack

Poetry probably isn't the first thing that comes to mind when thinking about a hardened, experienced Marine. Bruce Lack served two tours, spending 21 months in Fallujah, Iraq. And he says it was poetry that helped him return to civilian life.


While Lack had long enjoyed creative writing, he says poetry synthesized the complex and difficult emotions of coping with the experience of combat and his return to the world back home. There, only those who have also experienced combat truly understand how jarring one reality can be when juxtaposed with another.

In his debut poetry collection, Service (Texas Tech University Press, 2015), Lack writes about deployment, the horrors of the front lines, even the odd sense of missing that nightmarish world after returning home.

Credit Texas Tech University Press

“I don’t miss it enough to still be in it,” Lack says. “But there’s something about that kind of closeness where there’s very little margin for error. The things that happen are immediate and intense, and you reach a level of understanding that you will only have with those seven or eight or ten people. Of course you would miss that. Tangentially, it’s, well, very exciting to not be killed when someone is trying to kill you. Euphoric for the moment, and then you immediately crash into the reality of what’s just happened. There’s that initial rush of—I can’t believe I’m still alive. It’s a great feeling to be still alive.”

Lack says Service has found an audience among other veterans. But it has also helped him connect with those who have not served in uniform, providing them at least a glimmer of understanding of a reality that's almost incomprehensible. Lack also hopes the book opens a dialog. He says writing it also helped him untangle his thoughts and emotions, allowing him to process where he has been and where he is now: back home in Portage, Michigan, with his wife and small son.

Lack says he understands the thought when people thank veterans for their service, “But I think it’s a phrase that’s become politicized a bit. Also, I think there are people who think ‘thank you for your service’ absolves them of any other obligation. What I want most as a veteran is understanding.”

Bruce Lack is a graduate of the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan.

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